Legendary Hollywood producer Robert Evans once said “If they like Orange Juice, plant an Orchard”. It’s a rule that has applied to Hollywood since the earliest days of cinema, if something works keep on doing it. So when the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings franchises proved to be massively successful Hollywood hit the library in search of the next literary fantasy franchise to adapt. Many such as Eragon and the Golden Compass failed to have the same impact in the multiplexes as they had in bookshops, only the recent adaptations of C.S Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia series have proven to be worthy contenders to the throne. After the successes of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and Prince Caspian it is turn of the third book in the series, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader to receive the big screen treatment.
This time the story focuses on Edmund, Lucy and their spoilt brat of a cousin Eustace, their two elder siblings now being too old to travel back to the magical land of Narnia. When the three children are sucked into a nautical painting they find themselves back in Narnia aboard The Dawn Treader, captained by none other than their old friend King Caspian with the assistance of the valiant mouse Reepicheep. Narnia has been overrun by an evil enchanted mist that has the power to conjure up the darkest nightmares of its victims and the only way to defeat it is to find the swords of the seven lost lords and place them on the mythical table of Aslan. So begins an ocean adventure that sees the young heroes battling, dragons, sea monsters, demons, pirates, and dwarves in an attempt to save their beloved Narnia.
As a family fantasy film Dawn Treader works very well. Veteran director Michael Apted replaces Andrew Adamson at the helm and the structure of the film clearly benefits from his experience. It is structurally superior to the last two films, and has the kind of exciting finale that would have benefited the latest Potter offering. Fans of the C.S Lewis books will not be disappointed either as this is a very loyal adaptation, even to the point of not shying away from the Christian theology of its master text, although the less religiously inclined might find that the less than subtle Jesus/Aslan parallels do sometimes draw groans. As with the previous two films the CG is very well realised, particularly in the case of Reepicheep, who once again should give George Lucas reason to look at Jar Jar Binks and hang his head in shame. Where the film struggles is in the performances of its young actors, who lack the likability of the Potter cast and struggle to carry off some of the more dramatic moments in the script. Ultimately the Narnia series still lacks the epic feel of its rivals and it will be interesting to see if this film does well enough to warrant a fourth instalment, but for anyone searching for a fun family activity over the festive season this is ideal viewing.
Review by Elliot Hyams